Tag Archives: Children’s books

Books and Memories and Dads

When I say the word books, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?

Is it a particular book you love? Is it a memory of reading something at a particular place or time? Is it a memory related to reading? Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above. Whatever it is, it’s probably something that has been with you for quite a long time and that someone, somewhere fed your love for books. I believe that people who love books, have probably done so from a very early age. It’s not just about the reading part, although that is probably the most important part of loving books. No…I think it also has to do with the visceral reaction we have to books, whether it’s to one book in particular, or to books in general.

There is something deeply rooted in many of us that literally pulls us towards anything with the written word. Sometimes, we don’t even have to like the object of our affection. Just the fact that it’s a book is enough to make us want it. I see catalogues from various book sellers and even though I have absolutely no interest in an early 19th century book about guns, I still want to see that book! I want to hold it. I want to thumb through it and maybe read the first page or so. I want to know how much it costs and I want to vacillate over whether or not I can afford it and whether or not I want to add it to my collection, not because I love 19th century books about guns, but because it’s a book! It’s an old book! And it’s old! And it’s a book! See what I mean?

So yes. When I think of books, I definitely think of books but one of the first things that comes to mind for me is my daddy. Which is kind of funny because my mom was the voracious reader in our family even though I surpassed her in my voracity to read when I was still very young. My dad was a very, very casual reader. He was not the one who stayed up until 2am reading, that was my mom…or me…under the covers with a flashlight, of course.

No…my dad wasn’t the big reader of the family. What he was, was a man of infinite patience. The man who, every two weeks, almost without fail, drove me to the library in downtown San Antonio. This was not a quick trip to the library. No. We lived a good 20 minute drive away from the main library and this meant we had to eat dinner before we left because, as I’m sure you can well imagine, once I got to the library, I was not leaving until it closed.

So after we finished an early dinner my dad would tell us to get in the car and he would drive to downtown San Antonio so I could have my evening at the library. My brother would come sometimes too but he was irrelevant to me at that time. He only got in my way and got bored quickly so it was better when he didn’t go. This was mine and my daddy’s night. We’d drive around looking for an open parking meter, park, feed the meter (I got to do that too!) and walk to the main entrance of the library.

As soon as we walked in, I literally ran up the steps to the 3rd floor where the children’s library was located. Dad checked in my last batch of books, then waited for the elevator and eventually made his way up. Meanwhile, I would systematically begin walking up and down every aisle on the floor looking for books that might interest me. My dad, the saint, would make his way to the little kids reading area and sit down to wait. Sometimes, he’d thumb through a book but more often than not, he would just sit there, patiently waiting for me.

I never made it through the entire floor in one evening. Not for lack of trying, though. I walked, head turned sideways so I could read titles better, pulled books halfway out so I could scan the cover. If it looked interesting, I’d pull the book all the way out and open it so I could read the description on the back or on the sides of the dust jacket. If it sounded good after that, I added it to my pile. After I had more books than I could easily carry, I made my way to a table, dumped them all and proceeded to read the first two pages of every book. If I was hooked after the first few pages, they made my “take-home” pile and the rest I dutifully re-shelved. Pretty soon, I had a pile of books that I would then have to cull again (because libraries put LIMITS ON YOU. Why? I don’t know?!) to choose the books that would be making the journey home with me.

Week after week, month after month, my dad and I followed this ritual. My dad was a man of few words. He didn’t often say, “I love you” because I suppose men at that time weren’t really big into expressing affection like that. But I knew he loved me because he did this  for me without a gripe. Ever. Proof positive…we also had a book-mobile that parked itself near our neighborhood once a week but daddy never took me there unless I needed to return some books and check out others in between main library visits. He could have copped out of our library visit, but he rarely did. He could have told me it was too far to drive. He could have said he was tired from a long day at work. He could have found any one of many reasons to back out, but he didn’t.

So I believe I owe my love of all things books to my mom, who taught me to love to read, and to my dad who willingly fed my voracious appetite for books without once complaining how much it cost him.

“Where’s Papa Going With That Ax?”

“In a poll of librarians, teachers, publishers and authors, the trade magazine Publisher’s Weekly asked for a list of the best children’s books ever published in the United States. Hands down, the No. 1 book was E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.”~~From NPR’s Fresh Air and a review by Maureen Corrigan of “How E.B. White Spun ‘Charlotte’s Web‘”.

After I heard this review and read the excerpt from Michael Sims’ book, “The Story of Charlotte’s Web”, I had a better understanding of what motivated E.B. White to write this classic story. The story of Charlotte’s Web is tantamount to a handbook of sorts for children growing up in this beautiful, yet sometimes heartbreaking, world. And even though Charlotte’s Web was published in 1952, life in 2012 really isn’t that different. We don’t like to see the most vulnerable in our society hurt. We all want to be accepted for who we are. We all want loyal friends that will stick with us until the bitter end. And we all want to be remembered for doing something meaningful in our lives, no matter how seemingly insignificant, even after we’re gone. These are big, big concepts for a small child but E.B. White managed to make them all, and more, bite-sized and easily digestible for the child reader.

Here’s what we know about E.B. White: He was born in New York in 1899. He served in the army before attending university. After he graduated from Cornell University, he worked as a reporter for a while, and was a writer for The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine. His wife, Katherine White, was the fiction editor for The New Yorker and regularly reviewed children’s literature. Even though Mr. White was already quite accomplished and well known in the industry, it was at his wife’s prodding that he began to set his children’s stories to paper. And for the record, there was a barn, there was a Charlotte, there was a pig on a farm, there was a rope swing, there were hundreds of tiny spiders born of a spider’s egg sac. All of these things influenced one of the greatest stories for children of all times.

I have to thank my third grade teacher again. Miss Pruski. I mentioned her in one of my prior posts about Roald Dahl, for enticing us to read by reading a few chapters of a book out loud, then stopping and making us check the book out of the library to find out how the book ended.

Charlotte’s Web was one of those books. From the opening line of the book (probably, one of the best opening lines ever):

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

We are drawn into a story that immediately sets us on edge and makes us worry until Fern is able to stop the horrible deed from occurring. We feel her love for little Wilbur as she takes responsibility for something so vulnerable. I can still remember how the illustrations of the book made me feel. I wanted a baby pig so badly!! The pictures of Wilbur being cradled and bottle-fed by Fern and the one of Wilbur in a doll carriage almost made me want to go out and buy a baby carriage (and I wasn’t that type of kid) and later, pictures of Charlotte and her famous webs, and all the animals who inhabit the farm stay with me to this day. The illustrations were created by famous children’s book illustrator Garth Williams and set a gorgeous tone that allowed us all to actually see the farm and all of the animals that lived there. The illustrations are worth their own blog post, they are so beautiful and so telling.

I’m not going to re-tell the story of Charlotte’s Web here but I will say if you haven’t read this book, you need to read it as soon as you can make the time to do so. I don’t care how old you are, the issues in this book have relevance that will resonate in you for the rest of your life because in this book, you will find that heroes can exist in all shapes and sizes, irregardless of age or gender. You will be reminded that you can’t judge someone by the way they look. You will understand that although we can’t always help our nature, we can still do good things and be loyal to the people who love us. You will remember that everyone needs someone to think we’re “terrific”, “humble”, or just plain good.

“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing…after all, what’s a life anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die…By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

Charlotte’s Web isn’t E.B. White’s only children’s book. He also wrote Stuart Little, which was published in 1945, and the Trumpet of the Swan, which was published in 1970.

A  first edition copy of Charlotte’s Web in hardcover, in good or better condition without a dust jacket, can be found selling for several hundred dollars and up. A copy with a dust jacket in good or better condition, and the initials IB on the copyright page to signify a true first edition, can be found for sale for several hundred dollars all the way up to several thousand dollars. Because E.B. White did not usually sign any of his books, there are very few signed books currently on the market but the few that are signed are selling for about $4,000 and a copy inscribed from Mr. White to his daughters is currently on the market for over $20,000.00.

This was a significant book in my life. I won’t say the most significant because I was such an avid reader I had many significant reads, but I will say that Charlotte’s Web forever changed the way I looked at animals and their daily lives. It helped me define what a best friend should be and what loyalty meant. It also taught me that life moves in cycles. Most of it joyous and life affirming. I also think this was my first encounter, as a child, with the death of a prominent character and even though it made me cry, I learned that life goes on.

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.

The Strange Adventure of Stuart Horten

I’ve been so busy these last couple of months, I’ve neglected my blog quite a bit and I’m sorry about that.

My intention was to do a review of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, another of my favorite childhood books, but I came across another book I enjoyed so much, I’m letting it cut in line and take over for a bit.

Originally titled, Small Change for Stuart in the 2011 U.K. publication, the U.S. version, published in 2012, kept the cover but re-titled the book, Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms. The author is Lissa Evans and she has published books for adults and younger children but this is her first foray into children’s lit.

Stuart is a 10 year old boy who is, not only small for his age, but if you take his name, Stuart Horten, and use the first initial of his first name in conjunction with his last name, you get S. Horten…shorten…something Stuart is not too fond of. In addition to his short stature, his parents are tall, intelligent, and keen on moving to a small village after his mother gets a new job hundreds of miles from where Stuart and his family currently live. It just so happens that the village of Beeton, where Stuart’s mom will be working, is the village where Stuart’s dad was born.

Stuart really doesn’t want to move but he has no choice, as it so often happens to 10 year olds, so he has to make the best of it. But it’s not easy. The town of Breeton is dreary and his next door neighbors are girls and not just any girls, they’re TRIPLETS and they’re nosy to boot. Things start sliding downhill from there until Stuart learns that his great uncle Tony used to be a famous magician and that great uncle Tony left Stuart’s dad a mysterious gift and a message for Stuart’s dad:

“To my nephew,

I have to go away, and I may not be able to get back. If I don’t return, then my workshop, and all it contains, is yours if you can find it…


Your Uncle Tony”

Stuart’s strange adventure is about to begin and I think your children, ages 8-11, would love to go with him. Parents might enjoy the trip too. The book is a quick read and an easy one that could be read aloud before bedtime with no fear of bad dreams.

It sort of reminded me of Encyclopedia Brown, which I loved. It’s the type of kid mystery that got my imagination revved up and determined to solve mysteries. I think everyone in your family will quickly become fans of Stuart and I wouldn’t be surprised if this book ended up on the big screen sometime in the near future.

Currently, a copy of the book on the left, Small Change for Horten, published by Doubleday in 2011, first edition, first printing, hardcover with fine dust jacket is fine condition is selling for $75.00 and up. I did see some copies up for bid on E-bay with a starting bid of about $20.00 but I think they’re going to go pretty fast due to the fact that the original U.K. publication is getting more difficult to find. The most expensive price I saw for this version was $127.00. I estimate if the movie rights are sold, this particular edition will easily go up in value.

A copy of the U.S., 2012, publication by Sterling, Horten’s Miraculous Mechanism, is selling right now for $5.00 up to about $13.00 from a variety of book stores, including my bookstore, The Literary Heart.

The author, Lissa Evans, is currently writing a follow-up entitled Horten’s Incredible Illusions and it’s due out in September 2012. It is available for pre-order in the U.S. and the U.K. on a variety of sites.

Magic, Mystery, and A Very Strange Adventure

“The telephone cord was hanging from the receiver, wires sticking out of the broken, dangling end.

Time to go, Stuart thought. And then the phone rang.”

New Interpretation of Where the Wild Things Are

I have to apologize for the lag between postings. Life caught up with me these last few weeks. I’m working on a post about a new children’s book that’s coming out next month that I’ll be posting soon but until then, listen and enjoy to one of the funniest, and most sarcastic, interpretations of Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

Reading and commentary by actor, Christopher Walken.

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